The 1950s must have been a heady time for musicians, especially those in what was then considered the cutting edge of country music. Performers like Bill Haley, the Maddox Brothers, and Carl Perkins were beginning to attract some attention with a sound that had its roots in a variety of styles. Those included Western Swing and Hillbilly Boogie, but the music the performers made came to be known as Rockabilly.
Perkins was one of those with connections to Sun studio in Memphis, which also helped Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis get their starts, but one of the studio’s lesser lights had to go elsewhere to get recognition. Charlie Feathers managed to do just that, and is now remembered as one of the pioneers of Rockabilly.
The Mississippi-born Feathers did spend a lot of time at Sun in those days, but mostly as a session musician and sporadic composer and arranger. And even though he was featured on a record or two, his inability to get star billing led him to eventually move to rival Meteor Records. It didn’t take long for the results he wanted — his first record, “Tongue-Tied Jill,” with “Get With It” as the B side, became a regional hit, and both songs became classics.
Feathers soon moved to King Records and began spinning out a series of hits, among them “Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby,” “One Hand Loose,” “Bottle to the Baby,” and “I Can’t Hardly Stand It.” His unique style, which not only included shifting dynamics but also a sound that was almost a singing hiccup, became very popular with fans.
As the years passed, most of Feathers’ contemporaries moved on to other styles but he stubbornly stuck with what worked for him, even though he mostly faded from public view. However, when Rockabilly began to again come into style in the early 1970s, he felt vindicated — and he wasn’t bashful about claiming his place in music history.
The last couple of decades of his life he fought health problems, but continued to perform whenever and wherever he could. As late as the 1990s he was still recording, and his fan base — especially strong in Europe — continued to appreciate his music long after his death in 1998.